Dealing with Difficult Customers? Have a S.O.D.A.

One of the most challenging and stressful situations that customer service reps encounter is dealing with a difficult or irate customer. Service trainer Barbara Burke created a four step process for handling these emotionally charged situations. She called it SODA:

S – Stop what you are doing.
O – Observe what is going on.
D – Decide on a solution.

A – Act with confidence.

“When we are forced to deal with a difficult, irate person at work our natural response is to become defensive. But that reaction isn’t appropriate in most business situations,” Burke says.

“When I work with reps I ask them to just stop for a nanosecond before reacting automatically. It’s that automatic reaction that often gets us into trouble, and by practicing unplugging we discipline our minds to react less automatically,” she says. “If you can stop for a second to observe the situation for what it really is — maybe a shipment was incomplete or went astray — and begin to understand that, ‘OK, the facts of the situation are that maybe we screwed up, and if I were this customer, I would probably be mad too.'”

The other self-talk that should go on during that short stop-and-observe moment is to realize that it is not about you — the rep — the customer is angry about the situation. “And once you take yourself out of the equation, you can focus on coming up with a solution to the customer’s problem,” says Burke.

“I always counsel reps to try to come up with at least two options for the customer so they have some say in the decision — and then you can act with confidence once you have formulated what your solution will be.”

More on dealing with difficult customers appears in the February issue of Customer Communicator, the training newsletter for frontline reps.

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